Some may consider Justin Allgaier an underdog in this year’s NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase. The JR Motorsports driver failed to win a race during the regular season, gathering three second-place finishes in the process. Although he has been consistent throughout the first 26 races of 2016, victories lock contenders into the next round under this championship system. Can he and his No. 7 team gather up the extra speed they need?
Of course they can – they’ve been doing it all season long.
Allgaier and crew chief Jason Burdett prefer to stick to what they know, and it has done wonders for their season; the No. 7 team accumulated 11 top fives and 21 top 10s so far. For this being his first season with JRM and Burdett, those statistics are more than just impressive.
While some teams would try new approaches to outperform their fellow Chase participants, Allgaier is the exact opposite. He knows what’s working and doesn’t want to mess up their mojo.
“I don’t feel like we need to reinvent the wheel. We need some speed, we need to be able to be a little better each and every week, but we don’t need to deviate too far from where we’re at,” Allgaier told POPULAR SPEED. “We’ve made it to the Chase because of our consistency and our pace, so I don’t think we change anything other than refining what we have, make it better, and execute these races.”
Harnessing that extra speed won’t be difficult for JRM; the organization did not make any significant adjustments, even while Joe Gibbs Racing dominated the top three. The No. 7 crew have had their share of bad luck and communication issues, but it has not slowed them down.
The three-car organization has since closed in on the Toyota team without making huge adjustments, even getting teammate Elliott Sadler to victory lane at Darlington Raceway. Although impressed by the organization’s gains and his consistency, Allgaier refuses to doubt JGR’s – or any other Chase teams’ – capabilities.
He said, “That’s probably the best part for me, knowing we haven’t made any major changes and picked up a tremendous amount on the Joe Gibbs cars. That being said, it wouldn’t surprise me if we go into this Chase, and they come out guns blazing, even better than they’ve been since the beginning part of the season. For the most part, I feel like all the teams and drivers have done a good job of maxing out what we have equipment-wise and what we have as far as personnel.”
Competition levels steadily increased throughout the regular season, and the Chase factors into that shift. That trend will continue throughout the final seven races as the 12-car field battles for the series title. Allgaier is focused on running well, but he understands when a good race isn’t in the cards for the No. 7 team. He also plans to keep an eye on all his competitors, who will probably come out swinging Saturday night.
“Some weeks, we’re going to be better than others, and some weeks, we’re going to be worse than others. It’s going to be about managing the bad days and excelling on the good days,” he said, adding, “You can name everyone in the Chase, and they’ve shown really good speed at certain racetracks. A lot of those guys probably feel they’re seeded lower than they should be. They’re going to be pushing and more aggressive, and they want to come out and have a couple of strong first races to try and make that next round.”
Amid working with a new organization and crew chief, Allgaier put together strong runs and contended for multiple victories. He hasn’t found victory lane just yet, but that isn’t dampening his championship hopes. Drivers have won series titles without wins before, so he isn’t worried about winning.
Allgaier is optimistic the work he and his team put in during the regular season will soon bring the series title within reach.
“They say, ‘Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.’ We definitely have the preparation; there’s no doubting that,” he said. “We just need the right opportunity to capitalize on it, and this Chase is a great format for that. We have a race car and a race team that is capable of winning a championship.”
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